More Koreans Socialize with 'Invisible' Friends

      May 04, 2011 07:35

      The network of so-called "invisible" friends is growing as young Koreans maintain a broad online network of acquaintances they have never or rarely met, rather than focusing on a small group of friends they have to interact with in the real world.   

      The spread of Internet messaging services such as NateOn and MSN as well as smartphone messaging service called KakaoTalk has made it possible to communicate with invisible friends at any time anywhere. NateOn is Korea's leading PC messaging service boasting 33 million subscribers, of whom 15 million log on at least once a month. People under 30 make up 72 percent of them.

      The total number of subscribers to KakaoTalk recently surpassed 10 million, with each user having an average of 50 "friends," which translates into 200 million messages exchanged every day. Each NateOn subscriber has 101 "friends" and uses the service for 48 minutes a day on average.

      There are evident drawbacks. One example is theft using stolen ID. From 2009 until February this year there were 6,897 cases of theft using stolen IDs that netted around W14 billion (US$1=W1,082), according to police estimates.

      Experts say the trend is due to the fact that young Koreans feel more comfortable communicating online, leading to a shift in the very concept of what a friend is. "In the past a friend meant someone you share things with, but young Koreans these days consider as friends anyone who can satisfy a particular need, so they can have dozens of friends," said Chungnam National University psychologist Chun Woo-young. "The rise in the number of friends has increased the opportunities for communication, but the level of affinity has declined."

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